Monday, August 17, 2009

Lake Stevens 70.3 Race Report

Lake Stevens was my first HIM and overall it was a great experience. The race was great - nice lake, beautiful bike course, and a spectator filled run course that passed through downtown four times.


Saturday morning we slept in till around 7:30, got up and had some coffee, then loaded up the car and headed out. We made a stop for bagels at Kettleman's before hitting the road to get some additional carbs in (and because bagels are freakin delicious). We wound up hitting some traffic once we got near Tacoma and hit some major backup outside Seattle. Since we've moved from CA and don't really drive much anymore I forgot what a "joy" it is to sit in traffic and deal with the idiots that have somehow been issued a drivers license. Once we were past the I5/I90 junction the traffic thinned out and we made our way up to Everett where we were staying the night. We met our friends at their place (that's where we were staying) and dropped off our stuff before heading out to grab some lunch. Afterwards we headed out to the expo and bike drop off.

At the expo we sat through the mandatory pre-race briefing then went and picked up our numbers, bought a parking pass for downtown Lake Stevens, and made our purchases at the expo. Although the expo was pretty bare bones it did have the three things I wanted (coffee cup, bike jersey, and a hat) so for me it was just fine. It is nice to browse around a large expo looking for deals but really the only deal I ever found was at the Boston expo (I was not a runner but merely a spectator) on a pair of shoes. Other than that it's really just the same things you can find in a store or online. After that we drove to Lake Stevens to drop off our bikes in transition (dropping them off the day before the race is great), checked out the ins and outs of transition, then drove the bike course to see what was in store for us on Sunday. I knew it was a hilly course going in so it was no surprise to see some climbs and some downhill sections that would be pretty fun and potentially dangerous. After that we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some dinner supplies, headed back to our friends place, made dinner, organized our stuff, and were in bed at 10 with our alarms set for 3:40.

Race morning:

Nothing too exciting here - we arrived at transition at around 5:30 and milled around setting up our areas, hitting up the blue boxes, and talking with the other athletes. The start was delayed due to heavy fog on the water so each wave was bumped back 10 minutes which wasn't a big deal at all. Jen and I put our wetsuits on then walked over to the swim start to pick up our chips and get ready to go. After watching the pros start and wishing each other good luck (and sneaking in a final good luck kiss) I walked over to get with my group and get going.

The Swim:

The swim started in AG waves and mine was going to be the fourth group into the water. We walked down the pier and out onto a floating dock before jumping into the water – one thing I did that I shouldn’t have was I just jumped off the dock into the water and kept my legs straight. My feet hit the muddy bottom and although I didn’t get hurt I realized that I could have landed on a rock, stick, log, etc. that would have really hurt my foot and possibly ended my day before it began. So from now on I am going to sit on the edge of the dock and lower myself in if I can’t see what’s on the bottom.

Once in the water everyone fanned out into a line and I had positioned myself on the far end away from the buoy line. I figured that I didn’t want to fight it out with the main group and I would slowly make my way over once the melee was over. Although this meant I would likely end up swimming an extra 50 or so yards it was worth it to me.

Once I had been swimming for a couple minutes I could see that there were plenty of pockets of open water to my left so I started swimming towards the buoy line and the main group. Eventually I saw the white line holding the buoys and I swam along keeping it in the corner of my left eye. After a couple more minutes I decided to swim a few more feet to the left and get right above the line – I can’t say enough good things about having this to “sight” on. The only time I had to lift my head out of the water was to see who was in front of me and to look for the large buoys marking the middle of each out and back and the turns.

By the time we started catching swimmers from the wave before ours (M 25-29) I was in a line of swimmers and we were moving along at a pace that felt strong and comfortable. At this point we were about a quarter of the way through the swim and this is where the battle to maintain a buoy line spot began. The guys from the wave behind us (M 35-39) started catching up and I was also passing quite a few guys from my wave and the wave before mine. At this point I started looking up to see who was in front of me then I would look for an open spot and surge forward to move into it – this strategy worked great.

At the turn I got onto some faster feet and kept pace with a guy from the wave behind me – we swam side by side (the furthest we were apart, other than to go around another swimmer, was two feet) for the entire second half of the swim.

Finally I could see the docks and blue banners ahead of me and I knew we were getting close so I put on a final surge and swam in as far as I could – I stood up and ran into transition.

Swim: 35:40 – 25/69 M30-34


Transition was pretty uneventful. I ran over to my bike, peeled off my wetsuit, cap, and goggles, and put on my socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, and sunglasses.

T1: 2:55

The Bike:

Since we had driven the course the day before I had a good idea what I was in for and that was a fair amount of climbing with a few steep descents thrown in the mix. I spent the first few miles spinning at a high cadence and mentally preparing myself for the next three hours (my goal was to finish in 3 hours sans any mechanical issues).

The first lap was fairly uneventful – I passed a couple guys on the bike but was getting passed at a fairly steady rate. This didn’t come as too much of a surprise – although I am a pretty solid biker I am by no means fast and I know that this is one area where I could see quite a bit of improvement with a few hundred more miles under my belt. The highlight/lowlight/shake-me-up-light of the first lap came at about mile 17 when I was nearing the top of a climb and getting ready for the big downhill on the other side. I heard a loud screech/squeal from up ahead and thought “wtf was that?” Once I crested the hill and started down (it was a large sweeping downhill turn to the right and the road was lined with trees) I saw a volunteer up ahead standing in the road with a flag waving us to the left. I slowed down and when I came around the corner I saw a cop with a mangled bike tire in his hand, several pieces of a bike frame and water bottles in the road, and a dazed biker sitting on the side of the road with what was left of his bike still clipped onto one of his feet. There were so many pieces of bike in the road that I thought there must have been two cyclists involved. I later on found out that a dog ran out in front of him when he was approaching 60 mph and he had no time to react. He ended up with a ton of road rash but other than that he was fine – the dog was ok – the bike was a complete loss.

Towards the end of the first loop I had my first experience with the “death wobble” and it scared the shit out of me. I was coming downhill at probably close to 40 mph when the guy ahead of me decided that even though he was going slowly he was still going to weave all around the whole lane so no one could pass. I made a quick movement to get out of my drops and up onto my hoods when all of a sudden my front wheel started violently wobbling. I applied firm pressure to my breaks and after slowing down to about 20 mph my bike settled down. This was my second note to self of the day (after the dock jumping) – when you’re hauling ass downhill, stay in your drops.

On the second loop an earlier suspicion I had was confirmed; I was going to have to pee. Now for those of you that can pee while riding, more power to you. I don’t see how it is possible and with the sheer volume of urine I tend to release I don’t really think I want that all over my legs, shoes, and water bottles. I finally saw a port-o at a water stop/penalty tent and I stopped and ran over to it. Since I was curious how long this would take I was watching my watch – I kid you not, I was peeing full stream for 40 seconds – not exactly the sort of piss you want to take all over yourself, at least in my opinion. Once I was back on my bike two minutes had gone by but I felt 5000% better. I felt like that port-o was a cocoon and I was emerging from it as a new person ready to push hard through the end of the ride (which I did).

Note to self number three occurred on the second loop of the bike: Always have back-up nutrition plans. I knew that I would only need three bottles of liquid for the ride but I carried an extra bottle of water with me (I didn’t want to deal with the bottle hand off) – one bottle of Perpetuem to drink first, a bottle of water to drink second, and a bottle of Mandarin Heed to finish out the ride. I had decided to carry a Hammer Gel to take during the second hour with my water and decided to throw an extra one in my pocket just in case I needed it. Well, when I went to grab my bottle of Heed at around mile 40 I bobbled it in my left hand and dropped it while climbing the biggest hill on the course. The drop really didn’t register until I was about 15 feet past the bottle and by the time I thought about stopping to get it I was a good 30 feet beyond it and I knew there was no way I was going to ride back down the hill, stop, then ride back up. The main reason for this decision was the extra gel I had with me. One bottle of Heed = 100 calories; One Hammer Gel = 90 calories; aka – it was all good.

The next thing I knew we were turning off to head back to transition and about 15 minutes later I was riding through downtown and starting to think about the run. The final stretch into transition was lined with people and I felt pretty cool swooping around the corners on my bike.

Bike: 3:05:34 – 43/69 M30-34


Basically the same as the first one – bike gear off, run gear on, quick hammy stretch, off we go.

T2: 2:29

The Run:

Going into this race I knew that the run was going to be a challenge but I also knew that this was my strong point and I could do well if I paced myself. A special thanks to Jen here because throughout training she consistently reminded me to go out easy and run at a pace that seems slow for the first couple of miles.

When I was leaving transition I felt like I had to pee again but it wasn’t that bad and I figured I could stop on the course if necessary – since there were aid stations every mile I knew this wouldn’t be too much of an issue. My pace for the first mile was 7:50 and I was feeling good. I saw someone run over to the port-o so I kept going and figured I would stop at the next one if it was empty. For some reason stopping to pee really wasn’t an issue for me; I knew that there was no possible chance I would place in my AG and since I had no PR to beat I just didn’t care about the few seconds it took to stop. So when I saw an empty blue box at the mile two aid station I ran right over to it – total stop time: 45 seconds – not nearly as much fluid in me as there was on the bike.

By the time I was at mile four I had made up the stop time and was back on a 7:50 AP – mile five was the last time I would be able to check my pace as the distance on loop two was off from the loop one markers and they hadn’t marked anything over mile five.

One thing that was really amazing to me was the number of fit looking people that were walking, cramping, and looking miserable in general. I was very happy that I wasn’t having any issues when suddenly it hit – the dreaded side cramp. I ran for a few hundred feet then decided to just stop and stretch it out. I started running again at a slower pace and although my side still hurt it never got to the excruciating point that it has in the past. It started at approx mile 7.5 and hung in there but suddenly at around mile 10 it just went away. I picked up the pace a bit but was still cautious because I didn’t want it to come back full force. At around mile 11 I saw Jen coming towards me waving and we high fived as we ran by each other – I was so happy to see her because I knew it meant she was more or less on pace and she looked great too! At this point I really picked up the pace and knew that if I pushed hard I could cross the line in under 5:30:00 – the last half mile I really kicked hard and even got a couple “nice stride” shout-outs from the crowd. I looked at my watch and saw 5:28:XX as I was nearing the turn to the finish and I knew I was going to make it. I heard my name announced as I came down the chute, threw a fist into the air, and crossed the finish line.

Run: 1:42:31 – 13/69 M30-34

Total Time: 5:29:07 – 24/69 AG – 260/882 OA – 213/591 Males

An Interesting Observation from the Numbers:

Of the 23 people in my AG with a better overall time:
1. 12 of them beat me in the swim.

2. All 23 beat me in the bike (I was 7:55 behind the slowest of those – he beat me by 5:04 overall). To reiterate: Everyone that was faster overall was faster on the bike, every single one of them.

3. 12 of them beat me on the run (everyone that ran faster than me had a faster OA time).

After I was handed my water bottle, Gatorade, and medal I walked over to the food and had a slice of pizza and some grapes. My stomach was a bit tight so I stretched out in the shade then walked over to the store to get a chocolate milk. I was able to see Jen come through on her way out for the final out and back then I saw her come flying around the last corner charging towards the finish. She was running down her PR and she looked really strong – I cheered her on then ran (aka hobbled) into the finishers area and gave her a big hug. She had a great day and is well on her way to an awesome race at Ironman Arizona.


Arcane said...

congrats on your first half ironman finish! Job well done!

Dragonfly on the Water said...

Wow, great race in all the events. Your write-up gave me the thrill of it all. You should be walking proud with a big smile on your face. Good job!

Kim said...

zach, really awesome job on your first HIM. way to hang tough during that run! it's amazing how many fit looking folks can lose it during the run due to poor pacing/nutrition. but you nailed it! congratulations!!!

the gazelle said...

great job! I just wish we'd been there to see you guys....that sounds so fantastic!

Alisa said...

Awesome! Congrats on a speedy HIM! I see more of those in your future.

Justin's cousin who is a multiple ironmaner (if that's a word) said all kinds of people walk the run portion but the smartest competitors don't! Sounds like both you and Jen are smart racers and know your limits.

I'm really excited to hear what's next on your list!

Steven said...

Nice job! 5:29 is an excellent HIM time any day!

aron said...

wow CONGRATS Zach! you did amazing for your first HIM, well for any HIM :)

Marathon Maritza said...

Wow!! Sounds like you did great on your first HIM!!! Congrats! Amazing!

"I kid you not, I was peeing full stream for 40 seconds – not exactly the sort of piss you want to take all over yourself" - TMI but also...WIN!

jameson said...

great race dude... especially for your first 70.3. i am sure with everything you learned the next one will be much faster!

Ewen said...

Just dropped in to say 'congratulations' - that was a top photo of Jen snoring her head off ;)

Sub 5:30 sounds bloody good for a first-up HIM. Well done!

Anonymous said...

CONGRATS!!!! sound likes you had a great race and I don't think I could ever pee while biking! lol

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